School curriculum and qualifications

Teaching in New Zealand state and integrated schools is guided by a National Curriculum. The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main national qualification for secondary school students in New Zealand.

The National Curriculum includes the New Zealand Curriculum (for schools that teach in English), and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (for schools that teach in Māori).

The New Zealand curriculum

The New Zealand Curriculum guides what your child learns at school. It is taught in schools that teach in the English language. Schools and communities use the New Zealand Curriculum as a guide when designing a curriculum to meet local needs and interests.

The New Zealand Curriculum aims to create young people who are “confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners”. It includes five key competencies to help children do well in life – thinking; using language, symbols and text; managing self; relating to others; participating and contributing. These five competencies are developed across school life and woven into the eight key learning areas:

  • English
  • The arts
  • Health and physical education
  • Languages
  • Mathematics and statistics
  • Science
  • Social sciences
  • Technology.

As a parent, you will receive reports at least twice a year about how well your child is doing at school. You will also have the opportunity to discuss their progress in regular ‘meet the teacher’ sessions. 

New Zealand Curriculum | Ministry of Education

National Certificate of Educational Achievement and secondary schooling

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main national qualification for secondary school students in New Zealand. NCEA is recognised by employers and used for selection by universities and polytechnics, both in New Zealand and overseas.

Courses are designed so tasks performed by students build learning and contribute towards evidence of achievement of standards throughout the year. Schools use a range of internal and external assessments to measure how well students meet these standards.

Some secondary schools also offer Cambridge International Exams, International Baccalaureate or an Accelerated Christian Education programme.

How does NCEA work?

Put very simply, NCEA works like this:

  • Each year, students study a number of courses or subjects. These may include traditional academic subjects as well as courses that count towards other qualifications in the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF), like tourism or motor engineering
  • In each subject, students are assessed through classroom work and exams against a number of standards
  • When a student achieves a standard, they gain credits
  • When they have achieved the required number of standards and added up enough credits, they get an NCEA level 1, 2, or 3 certificate ‑ the higher the level, the more advanced the topics
  • Each NCEA Level certificate can also come with Merit or Excellence endorsements for students who perform especially well.

Careers New Zealand has more information on how NCEA works, what you can do as a parent and advice on how students should choose their subjects.

How to understand NCEA | Careers New Zealand

Understanding the NCEA | NZQA

IB World Schools in New Zealand | IB Schools NZ

Cambridge Schools in NZ | Association of Cambridge Schools

NCEA’s wide recognition

NCEA is recognised by tertiary institutions in New Zealand and in countries around the world, including Australia, the USA, UK and Europe, India, Thailand and South Korea.

There are more details about NCEA recognition on the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) website. NZQA is the government body responsible for maintaining the quality of New Zealand’s qualifications system.

International recognition of NCEA | NZQA

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Page last updated: 17/11/2017

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